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Burglary Tools--Pliers

Did the Court of Appeal err in holding that a pair of pliers, which the defendant used to remove an anti-theft device from a pair of blue jeans in a department store, qualified as a burglary tool within the meaning of Penal Code section 466?

Held: Criminal liability for possession of burglary tools requires a showing the defendant intended to use the instrument or tool to break into or effectuate physical entry into a structure in order to commit theft or a felony within the structure. H.W. used a pair of pliers to remove an antitheft tag from jeans in a department store and left the store without paying for the jeans. A juvenile delinquency petition was filed alleging H.W. committed theft and possession of burglary tools (Pen. Code, 466). Following a contested jurisdictional hearing, the juvenile court sustained both allegations. On appeal, H.W. challenged the juvenile court's finding that he possessed a burglary tool within the meaning of section 466. The Court of Appeal affirmed. The California Supreme Court granted review to resolve a conflict in the Courts of Appeal. Held: Reversed. Section 466 prohibits possession of certain enumerated physical tools, including any "other instrument or tool," with the intent "feloniously to break or enter" into a building or vehicle. Applying rules of statutory construction, the court concluded section 466 includes an intent requirement focused specifically on commission of a felonious breaking or entry. "Coupled with the statute's list of tools that seem primarily capable of facilitating entry despite someone's effort to secure or limit access to a structure or other location referenced in the statute, the mention of breaking or entering in the context of section 466 seems most consistent with a reading that conditions criminal liability on a particular state of mind?intent to use an 'instrument or tool' to break or otherwise effectuate physical entry into a structure in order to commit theft or some other felony within the structure." Even if the pliers in H.W.'s possession qualify as an "other instrument or tool," H.W. lacked the intent required to establish criminal liability under section 466. There was no evidence H.W. intended to use the pliers to do anything other than remove the antitheft tag from the jeans. (In re H.W. (2019) 6 Cal.5th 1028 (S237415).) This case was decided on 3/28/2019.

Updated: 3/28/2019

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